Another week, another slate of exciting games! While our usual early-season blowouts were plentiful, several upsets and near-upsets arrived. The theme of the day in most of these games was penalties. Some continued trends, whereas others were disturbingly abnormal. A couple of players were also standouts in ways that could make them more appealing for the 2024 NFL Draft. These takeaways mostly concern the AP top 25, as that’s where all the action was this week. Honestly, that’s likely where the bulk of the action will be most weeks. Read on for my week 3 takeaways!
(10) Alabama in Full-Blown Panic Regarding QB Situation
Alabama HC Nick Saban has been known to bemoan the “rat poison” applied to his team. He hates when their egos get inflated by outside sources. This year, he has had to do the reverse: try and build UP his team’s confidence. Nowhere is that more true than at the QB position, which has become an unusual revolving door. A couple of days ago, we learned that last week’s starter, Jalen Milroe, would be benched. Anyone who follows this website knows why. Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner got the start.
The results were abysmal, even against a poor South Florida team. Buchner completed just 5 of his 14 attempts for 34 yards, leading to a mere 3 points. Even those came as a result of a USF fumble that gave Bama the ball at the plus 25. Before halftime, he too was benched in favor of Ty Simpson. Simpson (5/9 for 73 yards) was a bit more effective with his passes, but he took 5 rough sacks. He at least got the running game involved. The ground attack carried the Tide, single-handedly leading to a 17-3 win.
Alabama is lucky that USF is so anemic on offense. The Crimson Tide defense was good, but the Bulls mostly sabotaged themselves. Saban had his team cut down on penalties (just 5 this week), but he clearly has a problem with his offense. OC Tommy Rees should expect to lean on the run going forward, as RBs Roydell Williams (17/129/1) and Jace McClellan (13/74) were his clear best players. Saban wouldn’t say who would start at QB next week, likely because he doesn’t know. No player has stood out in a positive way. We’ll see what happens next, but one thing seems certain: that #10 ranking should drop.
Gators Comfortably Take Down (11) Tennessee
Another highly-touted SEC team has fallen. The Volunteers were ranked #11 and not in the top 5 because a drop-off was expected from Hendon Hooker to Joe Milton at QB. Based on Tennessee’s effort against Florida in their 29-16 loss, much of this team is weaker than last year’s edition. The defense already wasn’t great, but against the run, the Volunteers had no answers. Florida RB Trevor Etienne (23/172/1) gashed the front 7 all evening, moving the chains and never letting the Tennessee offense get into a rhythm. The Gators had 3 ground scores, exceeding Tennessee’s entire output.
Some of that was by necessity. UF QB Graham Mertz (19/24, 166 yards, TD, rush TD) barely threw the ball in the second half. He was dealing with a left hand injury but also appeared to have a laceration on his throwing hand. Crucially though, he didn’t turn the ball over. Defensively, the Gators dominated the line of scrimmage. Tennessee earned just 3.3 yards per rush. Milton (20/34, 287 yards, 2 TDs, INT) found something late in the game, but by then it was much too late. A good chunk of that production came in garbage time. We know Milton has a big arm, but the accuracy issues that plagued him at Michigan remain.
The Volunteers are going to drop sharply in the rankings, but they’ll be unranked before long (if they don’t drop out in today’s release). South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama, and Georgia are still on the schedule, and Kentucky and Missouri looked good today too. Expect Tennessee to lose at least a couple of those. Florida, on the other hand, looks nothing like the team that got smacked around by Utah and the Utes’ backup QB. Coach Billy Napier has the Gators headed in the right direction.
(3) FSU, (18) Colorado Survive Scares Against Unranked Foes
The first one was pretty straightforward: Florida State couldn’t pull away from Boston College. The Eagles actually started with a 10-3 lead, but then the floodgates opened for the Seminoles. With a 31-10 lead, the game seemed over. However, FSU would be shut out the rest of the way. BC continued to chip at the lead until the score was 31-29. Needing a stop on 3rd and 7, BC committed a face mask penalty, clinching a loss. This game shouldn’t have been close; BC nearly lost to Holy Cross last week and committed 18 penalties (a school record). If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this close call might tighten the ship in Tallahassee.
Our other near-upset was wild. Facing their main rival in Colorado State, the action really started before the game, with CSU HC Jay Norvell making unwise comments about Colorado HC Deion Sanders. To both their credit and detriment, the Rams played the game as if it were personal. Trading blows in the first half, CSU was up 14-7 when DB Henry Blackburn leveled CU star two-way player Travis Hunter with a dirty hit that sent him to the hospital. That would be one of a whopping 17 penalties for 181 yards on the day for CSU. Colorado would tie the game at 14 shortly thereafter, but they didn’t score in the second and third quarters.
The better Sanders for much of the contest was CB Shilo Sanders, who had a pick 6 and a forced fumble. However, his brother, QB Shedeur Sanders, was a new man in the 4th frame. He delivered from the pocket and with his legs, taking numerous hits. Finishing 38/47 for 348 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT, Sanders hit WR Xavier Weaver (9/98/1, 2-point conversion) and TE Michael Harrison (7/76/2, 2-point conversion) for big play after big play. Being down 28-20 with 2:06 to go and the ball at his own 2 didn’t faze Sanders, who led a 98-yard drive for a TD and a tying 2-point conversion.
In OT, the story remained the same, with each team trading TDs while CSU continued to rack up penalties. That trend continued in the 2nd OT, but CSU blew their shot with, you guessed it, penalties. Needing 8 points to tie the game, the Rams committed an illegal blindside block and a delay of game. The latter was on an already brutal 4th down and goal. QB Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi‘s ensuing pass was picked off, one of three for him on the day. Colorado escaped with a 43-35 victory, but probably not in the way they expected. Coach Prime will have plenty of teachable moments…as well as some newfound grit.
K Harrison Mevis Plays the Hero for Missouri
Perhaps our most entertaining game featured (15) Kansas State playing at Missouri. Both 2-0 teams impressed, and they felt evenly matched. Both QBs, Will Howard (25/39, 270 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) for KSU and Brady Cook (23/35, 356 yards, 2 TDs, rush TD) for Mizzou, had great games. The teams tied at 7-7, 17-17, and 27-27. It seemed like we were destined for overtime when Missouri had 2nd and 10 at the KSU 39 with just 6 seconds remaining. Then the Tigers trotted senior K Harrison Mevis onto the field. A 56-yard field goal seemed long, but Mevis has a large leg.
Then the unthinkable happened: after a Wildcats timeout, Missouri lost track of the play clock and committed a delay of game penalty. Undeterred, the Wildcats sent Mevis back out for what would now be a 61-yard try. The kick was flawless. In fact, it looked like it would’ve been good from 62 or 63 yards out. At 61 yards, the kick set the record as the longest made FG in SEC history. More importantly for the Tigers, it sealed a 30-27 victory over a top-15 opponent. You could see how much it meant when the home crowd stormed the field. Now a 3-0 SEC team, Missouri could find themselves ranked later today.
South Carolina WR Xavier Legette Continues to Impress Despite Loss
I’m not here to talk about South Carolina blowing a 14-3 halftime lead against (1) Georgia. Many teams have held brief leads against the Bulldogs only to be smothered after the break (SC never scored again and lost 24-14). I instead want to talk about a WR from the losing side who might go a bit under the radar with the Gamecocks’ offensive line problems: Xavier Legette. The 5th-year senior played sparingly in his first 4 years, never earning more than 18 receptions in any of them. Something appears to have clicked though in 2023, and Legette is quietly morphing into a star.
Legette has plenty of size at 6’3″ and 227 lbs. He almost plays like a tight end with his ability to box out smaller corners. Where he differs is after the catch. Deceptively fast, Legette breaks away from defenders at a brisk pace. That explains why SC uses him on receiver screens; they know he’s quick enough to execute them. Through 3 games this year, Legette has 21 catches for 367 yards and 1 TD. His biggest outburst came in week one against UNC: 9 catches for 178 yards. He has been mostly unstoppable, even against the best (7/71 against UGA). If he keeps that up all season, first-round consideration is not out of the question.